I’m a firm believer in traveling often. Of course that can get expensive, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, so based on demand, here are my 5 tips to help you save money and travel more!
1. Join Hotel Reward Programs. Always. Always. Always. Even if it’s your first time at this specific hotel chain and it’s only for one night, you never know when you’ll be back. It’s FREE, and not only can you collect points towards stays, but some offer perks, such as free wi-fi, complimentary morning beverages, etc. It’s okay to have accounts with each hotel chain – in fact, I recommend it. Most hotels have their own credit cards too, which offer even more bonuses (like upgrades, free nights, complimentary breakfast, etc), as well as collecting points faster, but I suggest joining the standard reward program for each hotel, and after a while see which you like best before deciding on a card. There’s really no need to have more than 2 hotel credit cards max, unless you travel often and A LOT. For the other hotels you visit (the ones you don’t have a credit card with), just keep collecting points through their standard reward program, but be sure to keep an eye out for when they expire, and what you can do to keep them from doing so! It usually involves staying at that brand once every so often, or cashing in points once every two years or so.
2. Don’t Use Discount Travel Websites. A lot of the time, the reviews are inaccurate (it will rate something as “five star,” when it is in fact not a five star hotel), which can confuse people. Also, some charge a booking or other type of fee (most of the time hidden well), and on top of that, most don’t let you collect points for the hotel you’re booking (but usually, they DO let you input your frequent flier number). Honestly, I would just steer clear of using a discount website to book altogether. I find it helpful to utilize these sites to research only, but always book direct. Best of all, most of the time when you book direct, a lot of hotels price match (and some even give you a discount on top of the already lower price). I find Kayak.com to be an awesome tool to search with when trying to price match.
3. Fly Using Reward Miles. I promise you don’t have to fly a lot in order to rack up miles. It’s a huge misnomer. Even the most basic traveler can fly for free. Airline credit cards are a necessity and so worth it. You can pay off whatever balance you may accrue if you’re worried about wracking up debt, but use your reward miles card for… everything! – to by groceries, holiday gifts, etc, and the miles will add up in no time, you’ll see! Next thing you know, you’ll have enough points to fly round trip to Europe! It really is wonderful. When choosing a card, see which airline offers the best mile cash out (vs. just a ‘basic’ travel credit card where it costs more “miles” to get somewhere). Also, be sure to do your initial sign up when bonus miles are being offered. There is usually a minimal annual fee associated with an airline credit card, but in return you won’t have to pay for checked bags, and may even get perks such as club passes! I’ll say it again – it’s worth it. You’ll be surprised you ever flat-out paid for a flight in the past.
4. Book The Lowest Category Room. Of course there are a few limitations to this, like if you’re dead set on a specific room type, you may just want to book that room from the start. However, if you like to gamble, and want to save a buck or two, upgrade at check in. I actually first learned about this neat little trick in Costa Rica. The room I really wanted was super expensive, but at check in, when the resort wasn’t anywhere near full and there were plenty of the rooms I wanted left, we were able to upgrade for hundreds less than if we booked that room initially! Also, of course there’s always the chance of a free upgrade, but that’s rare and a mere lucky shot. Go in prepared to pay, and I promise those rooms with a view, plunge pool, extra space, etc, are worth it – just wait until check in to upgrade to them for cheaper! This of course works at most hotel, but not all. For example, you cannot do this at Disney World.
5. Save Money When Renting A Car. Most credit cards, especially travel ones, come with rental car insurance as long as you use that card to book, and the traveler’s name on the card is the same as on the rental agreement! With the right card, you’ll never have to pay for insurance at the counter again. Car rental agencies like to tell you otherwise, but beware, as soon as you concede, the insurance that automatically comes with your credit card becomes null and void. It’s definitely a huge (and awesome) perk with travel credit cards. Each card offers something a little different (I find Amex’s to be the best, followed by the United Mileage Plus Card), so do your research prior to deciding!